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April 6, 2008





Life and Death at the Opening Bell



When the leaders of a health care business and a coffin maker teamed up to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange last week, traders may have wondered if they were witnessing some kind of April Fool’s prank.


Was the spectacle a metaphor for what was happening in the health care industry, or on the Street? No, it was entirely literal. The celebrants were Peter H. Soderberg , chief executive of Hill-Rom Holdings, and Kenneth A. Camp, chief of Hillenbrand. The two businesses began trading as separate companies that day.


Hill-Rom deals in medical technology and equipment. Hillenbrand is the parent company of Batesville Casket, which positions itself as “a leader in the North American deathcare industry.”


Before Tuesday, Hill-Rom and Batesville Casket were units of Hillenbrand Industries, based in Batesville, Ind. Separating them, Mr. Soderberg said, “is the best way to unlock value and allow each company to focus on accelerating growth in their respective industries.”



FINAL TOAST Peter B. Cameron moved from the kitchen to the dining room when he went from All-Clad to Waterford Wedgwood, but now he’s out the door. After a little more than two and a half years as chief executive, Mr. Cameron, who is 60, left the Irish luxury goods company last week. He and the company released a statement saying he would “pursue his own business interests.” David W. Sculley will be the interim C.E.O.


At Waterford Wedgwood, Mr. Cameron collaborated with Martha Stewart and other designers and promoted outsourcing. But the weak dollar has hurt the company, it could not meet Christmas demand, and sales are expected to be down 4 percent for the year ended March 31, to $1.1 billion.


Last November, the company said it would cut half of its roughly 1,000 jobs near Waterford.



NOW THAT’S A REFUND Lawrence J. Ellison, the billionaire chief of Oracle, just added $3 million to his wealth, thanks to the San Mateo County Assessor’s Office in California.


The office recently ordered the return of $3 million in taxes that Mr. Ellison had paid on his 23-acre estate in Woodside, Calif.


In 2004, the county assessed the property at $163 million, but Mr. Ellison’s holding company, Octopus Holdings, later had it appraised at $64 million.


In agreeing to the lower valuation, the assessor’s office said that the estate, with its 16th-century Japanese architecture, suffered from “functional obsolescence” that would limit its appeal to buyers.



REDOING THE MATH VeriFone, a maker of payment technology like PIN cards and checkout counter credit card machines, said last week that it “did not maintain effective internal control over financial reporting,” according to a company statement on Wednesday.


The lapse, revealed in an internal audit, included the overstatement of $37 million in operating income for the first three quarters of 2007 and double-counting of some inventory. It also resulted in the resignation of Barry Zwarenstein, its chief financial officer, who will leave his post after a restatement of earnings is completed.


The Securities and Exchange Commission has “indicated an interest in interviewing several current and former VeriFone officers and employers,” the statement said. A company spokesman did not return calls seeking comment.



IT REALLY ADDS UP Reuben Mark, who retired as chief executive of Colgate-Palmolive in July after 23 years, is standing for re-election as the company’s chairman one more time on May 8. But he will not have to worry that any decision he makes could jeopardize his substantial nest egg.


Mr. Mark, 69, has already cashed out his pension, collecting $36 million plus an annuity that will pay him more than $160,000 a year. He also had a gain of $149 million from exercising options on Colgate’s stock and an additional $32 million from the vesting of previous stock awards.


Along with more than $3 million in cash pay, that means Mr. Mark can spend some of his golden years deciding what to do with at least $220 million, before taxes.




RESISTANT TO SPIN Many C.E.O.’s are known for putting a positive spin on negative news, but that is becoming harder to do.


The C.E.O. Confidence Index, measured by Chief Executive magazine since 2002, plunged to a record low last month. Not mincing words, 52 percent of top chiefs surveyed called current business conditions downright “bad.” No word on whether the magazine plans to add choices like “truly abysmal” or “utterly hopeless” to the survey, just in case “bad” ends up becoming business as usual.